by David Brooks
Americans have watched in awe as the financial markets have taken a rollercoaster ride that few expected, or knew how to handle. Families are making adjustments in spending so their paychecks will make it to month’s end. It is not surprising that how well a family eats is more and more based on finances instead nutritional choices. The reason is simple; food is purchased with the families’ finances and finances are struggling.
One thing we know for sure is that no matter what the state of the economy people are going to eat. Unfortunately, money is often the determining factor in the quality of food that is chosen. From the corporate side we know that when money is tight people select less expensive food that tends to fill them up. This trend is what makes the sale of Chips, white bread, and pasta increase while the sales of lean meat, fresh produce, and healthy beverages decline. The trend is also apparent in the restaurant business. Sit-down restaurants see their business slow while restaurants with a drive through show strength. Steak gives way to Pizza in tough financial times. However, during the 3rd quarter of 2008, even the fast food groups showed a decline in customer count as well as a decline in the revenue going through the registers.
If this recession continues, those that thought about a garden in 2008 will probably start digging in 2009. The families that worked hard this summer planting, gathering, freezing and canning, will have the opportunity to eat well, and healthily, through the tough times.
The company I work for partners with the Regional Food Banks of Oklahoma to supply food for kids that do not eat well, or at all, from school lunch Friday until school breakfast on Monday. These kids are now receiving a backpack on Friday with a weekend’s supply of nutritional food that needs no preparation. The number currently receiving backpacks on Friday is a little over 11,000. The waiting list has grown from 2,000 to 7,000 this school year. It is a sign that people are struggling and that next year more families should read this blog, and consider growing a garden.
The food business is constantly monitoring and even attempting to change the food trends in the world. I thought you might like to see what the pundits are saying about the expected trends for 2009:
• In marketing terms, “organic” has gone mainstream. “Local” will be the term for 2009. Consumers want to know where their food came from and restaurants are beginning to brag about local sourcing. Hence the growth in farmers markets, and community supported agriculture.
• Unfortunately, the ideal of from-scratch cooking has been set aside for convenience and speed. Encouraged by pre-made sauces, frozen entrees and other conveniences, people will be buying, or assembling, many of their meals. Cost will be high for such convenience.
• As eco-sensitivity has grown, consumers have questioned whether eating organic grapes from Chile is a particularly “green” choice. In the future, people will want to know how far their food traveled, and the closer the better.
• There is a chance that “local” will see the same dilution that “organic” has seen once the big box retailers get involved. There were so many labels claiming organic origins in 2008 that consumers doubted the validity.
• Another predicted trend is the growth of vegetarianism. Deborah Madison’s book “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” was re-released recently after having sold over 300,000 copies.
• Watch for a rating system that will keep score of the “good-for-you-ness” of food.
• Expect more from probiotics, a fancy word meaning friendly bacteria that is good for the gut. So far yogurt is the expected source, but soon to hit the market will be: cheeses, supplements, milk, and even chocolates.
• Functional Water (vitamins and minerals added) will continue to be the rage.
• As companies try to make products more healthful, notice that “low-“ a favored prefix for calories, salt and fat will be replaced by “crunchy” and “crispy.” Some products will taste bad, but apparently they will be fun to chew.
• Last but not least, the trend for America to become even more obese is expected to increase. As consumers purchase foods that fill the belly but are not necessarily healthy, this trend is a natural result of these financial times.
The world food supply is still strong. Distribution, or lack of it, is why parts of the world remain hungry. It is no surprise to people reading this blog that good food is still grown in the backyard, and food laced with chemicals we can’t pronounce, or explain their function, is the primary item on the grocer’s shelf.
Should these financial troubles continue—and they will—we should all grow more, and share with others at the local farmer’s market. Sometimes good ideas actually do catch on.
One last note: “locavore” was chosen as WORD OF THE YEAR by the New Oxford American Dictionary. It means one who eats locally grown food.